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‘Silent CEOs’ will have explaining to do when content runs out, warns WGA’s Keyser

Chris Keyser spoke to WGA members via YouTube

The “silent CEOs” at the major Hollywood studios will have some serious explaining to do when their content pipelines run dry as a result of the US writers’ strike, according to Writers Guild of America (WGA) West president Chris Keyser.

In a rousing 12-minute video posted to the WGA’s YouTube page on Friday, Keyser said top execs at companies including Netflix, Amazon, Paramount Global, Disney, NBCUniversal and Sony will need to explain to shareholders why the AMPTP would rather see their content reserves run dry than return to the negotiating table.

“We have been highly effective in inflicting pain on the companies by withholding our work, by picketing, publicly demonstrating our resolve, our endurance, our sometimes even joyful commitment to a joyless task,” he said.

The writers’ strike began on May 2 and, according to the WGA, the AMPTP is refusing to return to the bargaining table. The AMPTP has just signed a new deal with the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and will soon begin negotiating with actors’ union SAG-AFTRA. The latter’s deal expires on June 30.

“They claim they don’t have time for us, that they’re busy. That’s a lie. It’s just a lie. They could talk to us if they wanted to,” said Keyser.

The fact SAG-AFTRA has issued its own strike authorisation vote should “send shivers down the [AMPTP’s] spine,” he said. In the video, which was posted prior to the DGA agreeing a new deal with the AMPTP, Keyser said the WGA will soldier on regardless of what happens with other guilds’ negotiations.

“Either way, we will fight on,” he said. “We have always been strong enough to get the deal we need using writer power alone. We were strong enough in 2007/08. We were strong enough during the agency campaign. We are strong enough now.”

In recent months, almost all the studios have publicly stated they have plenty of content to sustain their releasing pipelines for multiple months.

Keyser said the US studios are not “impervious” to the impact of a strike and the notion they are is a “lie.”

“Every day, the cost of not negotiating with us adds up. And it’s not just the shutdowns that get all the attention – it’s the shows that will shoot until they run out of scripts and then stop dead. The shows that will finish shooting and grind to a halt in post-production. It’s the fall broadcast season that, day by day, will begin to slip away.

“It’s the pain that for others will come later, but it will come, because subscribers don’t pay for platforms with meagre product, and advertisers don’t pay for shows with meagre audiences,” he said.

The WGAW president also argued the tech companies under the AMPTP have less to lose than legacy studios, who need content for their fall broadcast schedules.

“The parent companies of the broadcast networks, as well as Sony, will have to explain the strategy of risking those broadcast interests to the interests of tech companies, who will still have products to air in the fall. They’ll have to explain [the rationale behind] linking their fates to the fates of those same companies whose explicit intention is to eat them for breakfast, one at a time,” he said.

“Even those companies whose business is a half-and-half mix of streaming and linear programming, Disney, Comcast/NBCUniversal and Paramount, but whose streaming businesses rely heavily on the content they make for network television – content that is about to dry up – will have to explain.

“Warner Bros Discovery will have to explain why writers are a greater threat to them than Netflix. And how, having dumped content and shut down development for the past year to pay for one man’s merger, they intend to compete without scripted programming.”

He called Apple’s push into streaming a “little experiment in branding” and, of Amazon, said: “Given the way they treat unions, maybe they think they don’t have to explain anything. But this is a different town they’re in now.”

He added that even Netflix would feel their programming pipeline freeze, while acknowledging that it won’t happen imminently.

“Even Netflix, who alone among all these companies has no other product but its programming, and for whom subscription churn is a huge problem, whose quarterly results can be made or broken by the success of a single smash-hit show, will have to explain,” he said. “Because the hole in content is coming for them too. It may be coming later, but it’s coming, and Wall Street will take note.”

He concluded by telling writers to stay the course and continue to believe in the strike and the message it will send to the studios, Wall Street and other unions across the globe. “Hang on,” he said.


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